Sex Assaults Against Women in Military 'Epidemic'

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Mary Lauterbach, the mother of murdered pregnant Marine Maria Lauterbach, told lawmakers on Capitol Hill that the military must change the way it deals with sexual assault to avoid more tragedies like her own.

"I believe Maria would be alive today if the Marine system had been different," her mother told a panel of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which held a hearing Thursday on sexual assault and rape in the military.

There were no representatives from the Marines at the hearing, and the head of the Pentagon office tasked with responding to the problem of sexual assault in the military was ordered by her superiors not to testify despite a subpoena from the committee.

Lauterbach told lawmakers the chain of command at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina did not do enough to protect her daughter after she accused Cpl. Cesar Laurean of raping her. Military brass was slow to act, even after Maria's car was vandalized and she was punched in the face.

"They didn't believe it was anything," Lauterbach told lawmakers. "Maria had asked ... she goes, 'I would like to be transferred from Camp Lejeune.' They said, 'Don't bother. It's not going to happen.'"

Rep. Bruce Braley, whose congressional district includes Dubuque, Iowa, where yesterday they mourned the murder of Army 2nd Lt. Holley Wimunc, said this is not an isolated incident. Wimunc's husband, a Marine corporal, has been charged with her murder.

At Ft. Bragg in North Carolina, another pregnant soldier was killed more than a month ago and the father of her baby, Sgt. Edgar Patino, was arrested this week and charged with her murder.

"This is not an isolated thing we're talking about," Braley said.

While the military has come a long way since the days of the Tailhook scandal 15 years ago -- which is credited with creating a safer environment for female service members -- Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., said there remains an "epidemic of assault and rape against women in our military."

"Women serving in the military today are more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than be killed by enemy fire in Iraq," Harman said.

A GAO report released today found that instances of rape and sexual assault are under-reported in the military by as much as half.

The GAO report found some victims in the military do not report sexual assault because they fear "that nothing will be done; fear of ostracism, harassment, or ridicule; and concern that peers would gossip."

Lawmakers could not ask Dr. Kaye Whitley, director of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office at the Pentagon, to address the issue of sexual assault and what steps have been taken because Deputy Defense Undersecretary Michael Dominguez had barred Whitley from testifying, despite a Congressional subpoena.

Dominguez told the lawmakers he knew everything about the program and didn't need Whitley's input to answer their questions.

Dominguez was given a bipartisan dressing down on this point by Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., who chairs the Oversight Committee. "I don't know who you think elected you to defy the congress of the United States," he said.

Rep. Chris Shays, R-Conn., the ranking member, said he will support Waxman's pledge to hold Whitley and Dominguez in contempt. They dismissed Dominguez without taking his testimony.

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